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Minneapolis officer involved in offensive Christmas tree incident is back on the force

The officer won his job back in arbitration, which has the mayor calling for change to the process.

A Minneapolis police officer who was fired after decorations he placed on a Christmas tree at the Fourth Precinct were criticizes as racist is working with the department again.

Minneapolis Police Department spokesperson John Elder told BMTN Thursday that Mark Bohnsack "is employed and will be serving the 320-hour suspension." 

Bohnsack, according to the Star Tribune, won his job back through arbitration after the arbitrator ruled he was wrongly terminated. He's been ordered to serve his suspension without pay.

In November 2018, Bohnsack and another former officer, Brandy Steberg, decorated the tree in the lobby of the Fourth Precinct police station in North Minneapolis with Takis, a Popeye's chicken cup and Newport cigarettes, among other items. 

Officials with the department initially said the decorations were placed on the tree as a prank, but public outcry led Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to place the officers on leave and to demote Fourth Precinct Inspector Aaron Biard.

The officers were eventually fired, with Aug. 1, 2019, being Bohnsack's last day with the department, FOX 9 says

The Star Tribune says Steberg is not currently with the department. 

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Mayor calls for arbitration reform

The move to reinstate Bohnsack has Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey calling for more changes to the arbitration process. In a tweet Thursday, Frey said Chief Arradondo's decision to terminate the officer shouldn't be overturned. 

"We need arbitration reform that tackles an arbitrator’s authority to reinstate in cases of established, egregious misconduct," Frey tweeted.

In the weeks since George Floyd was killed by now-former Minneapolis police officers, Frey and Chief Arradondo have called for changes to the arbitration process. They have said the current process is letting too many police officers who are fired for misconduct return to their jobs. 

The Star Tribune found that over a 20-year period, half of the 80 Minnesota police officers who were fired and fought for their jobs back in arbitration were rehired. 

However, the Minneapolis police union argues that statistics don't show the cases where the union doesn't file grievances and result in negotiated settlements. Union head Lt. Bob Kroll has also made comments about how easy it is to get out of being disciplined. In a podcast earlier this year, he said he's had 54 complaints filed against him and he's been disciplined, but it's never upheld, noting the union is "well-versed in overturning discipline for biased or ineffective investigations."

This summer, the Minnesota Legislature did pass a series of police accountability measures, including approving funding for the creation of a panel of expert arbitrators to handle police misconduct cases. However, some argue the measures don't go far enough, including with fixing the arbitration process. 

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